Updating your global header: What’s hot — and what’s neglected
June 6, 2012 Leave a Comment
Back in the olden days — say, 10 years ago — designing an eCommerce site global header was relatively straightforward. Of course devising the right lineup of product categories and navigation items has always been as challgening as it is crucial. But otherwise, back then the global site header needed to serve only a few more functions — to convey the brand’s identity, connect shoppers with customer service and physical stores, and perhaps offer a means for signing up for email updates. Simple, right?
Nowadays, the job is far more complex. In addition to displaying product categories, on-site search, and customer service links, designers are often asked to shoehorn in an array of promotions, social networking links, account functions and merchandising categories.
As the example from Office Depot from 2005 (top) and this year (immediately above) shows, there’s now a lot more to juggle in what’s still a relatively small — but crucial — amount of real estate. So, how should merchants proceed?
To answer that question, we surveyed a selection of the 50 largest sites from the 2012 Internet Retailer Top 500 and tallied what’s in their headers.
The results point to a few general trends:
- What’s in: Promoting functionality. Merchants are going beyond offering an account login for registered customers; they’re spotlighting the ability to track orders and save products to wish lists and registries. Furthermore, on-site search (which was featured in every site header we visited) often offers a drop-down filter option to help shoppers
- What’s out: Static signup invitations. Email subscription links that are anchored in the header are fairly uncommon, with less than a third of merchants using them in the global header. Somewhat surprisingly, those links haven’t been replaced by invitations to “follow” brands on social networking sites; static links to Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter are featured on only 14% of sites.
- What’s hot: Flexible promotions. Merchants are using the global header like never before to include marketing messaging, with 80% of sites we surveyed featuring a promotion of some type — such as the free shipping offer and link to the print ad in the recent Office Depot example. Seasonal features, enticements to sign up for mobile alerts and links to sale categories often rotate, banner-ad style, in the header space.
- What’s neglected: Customer service links. More merchants were using the global header for promotions than for a link to customer service, which was only featured on 68% of sites — a dangerous oversight. Putting customer service help within easy reach is crucial to winning shoppers’ trust and helping them complete purchases. If you can’t devote space to displaying every available customer service option, such as a live chat link and an 800 number, then at least include a link to “Customer Service” or “Help”
- What’s smart: Highlighting gift cards. Gift cards are an ever more popular option — for example, they comprised more than 18% of total 2011 holiday sales, an increase of more than 20% over 2010. So placing links to gift cards in the global site header is a smart move.
With these trends in mind, use the following tactics to update and optimize your global header:
- Organize links with colors, layers or both. Help shoppers navigate a thicket of options with design techniques that group sets of links together. Many sites now employ horizontal bands in different colors, with one layer for service links such as account login and another for product navigation. Mass merchant JC Penney goes even further, with a grey band at the top offering links related to individuals’ accounts, such as “track my order,” and then a middle layer that includes searc and popular links such as “May books”, “find a store,” and “gifts,” above the standard product category navigation. A fourth layer promotes free shipping in a bold green banner.
- Don’t let search get lost in the shuffle. More than a third of shoppers use on-site search, and those users tend to complete purchases at a higher rate than other visitors, according to volume 15 of the MarketLive Performance Index — so ensure the search box stands out among all the other links and functions in the global header. On the Barnes and Noble site, the search box stands out despite being on a pale background, thanks to blue and green border coloring and black type in the box itself promoting the site’s 30 million products, along with a drop-down box for filtering results.
- Consider a floating footer for secondary links. Using a footer that remains visible at the bottom of the browser window as shoppers page and scroll through the site gives you another highly visible option for key links. Land’s End uses its universal floating footer for customer service links and a gift card promotion that includes an eye-catching graphic.
- Test, test, test. Give every link and label in the global site header the same consideration you use when devising product categories and navigation schemes — and that means testing, tweaking and refining. As with everything else, over time your global site header should adapt to the changing needs of your business.
What elements are in your global site header? How have you tweaked the design over the years?